Small is fine, ‘small miracle’ is finer!
I write with reference to Bernard Goonetilleke’s detailed yet succinct article in the Sunday Island of May 2 titled Sri Lanka: No ‘Small Miracle’. In it he deals with the fate that befell the tagline ‘small miracle’ used in the 2009 bid to aggressively promote tourism. Having been the Chairman of the Sri Lanka Institute of Tourism and Hotel Management, the S L Tourism Development Authority and the S L Tourism Promotion Bureau, he knows exactly what happened to the entire business of the promotion and he has written about it plus made some comments, which all of us Sri Lankans should be grateful for. We hope those in power, even the highest in the land, read the article and the editorial that followed. In this country there is such a sharp endeavour to cover up mistakes; sweep matters under the paapissa, not criticize the powers that be but only sing hosannas.
I wanted to immediately comment on the article because I am keenly interested and had attended some tourism promotion media sessions and events, but felt it wiser to wait a week to see whether some other person would comment. The wait was well worth it since the editorial of the Sunday Island commented on the article on May 9 saying: "The problems surfaced by the article, among other things, point to the need for rationality in public sector decision-making. We cannot see how development in the real sense could be ushered in, in the absence of clear-headedness and rationality." His title for the article is perfectly apt: "Fix this lingering fuzzy-mindedness"
I dare to drop the velvet glove and swipe away the diplomacy and restrained style and say very bluntly that those who are in power, those who make decisions should listen to wise counsel from experts and also never think they are omniscient; also that they can do as they like and additionally, that only sycophants can have a say and will probably be hearkened to.
The editorial also said: "However, parochial-mindedness or narrow thinking in public policy making circles has grown into such lengths today that it has joined other wasting ills, such as corruption and mismanagement, as a number one blight of the country. Hopefully, the President would take full cognizance of these concerns and impress on his new team of ministers and officials, the need to make a fresh start in governance, bearing these issues in mind."
I add that from what we have observed – what the public observes - ministers and top government officials pass the buck and take no decisions believing they thus run no risk. Or they decide matters with no advice asked for or taken, least of all the opinion of the public when the public is affected adversely or government money is sent down the drain. I fully understand that every thing cannot be made known to the public, leave alone seek public opinion. But experts have to be consulted and real experts, whatever their political and other ideas/loyalties are.
Mr. Bernard Goonetilleke has said in his article that the tagline ‘small miracle’ as an epithet for Sri Lanka used to promote tourism was objected to after all the promotional literature etc was published with millions spent - this because Sri Lanka was no longer small, the government having defeated the most vicious and aggressive terrorist outfit. But to the world with people waiting to come here, Sri Lanka is small and thus its wonder that within a couple of hours one could move from the dry zone to the rain drenched tropical forests; from the hot beaches to the cool of the hills and see and appreciate so much variety and culture and history.
I was shocked to note that the word ‘miracle’ was objected to because of its Christian connotation. Balderdash is what I say. This is paranoia. We cannot let bigots and fundamentalists of any religion dictate terms to the government. Especial care has to be taken not to seem to give preference to the majority race and credence to the majority religion. Thus objections, even if they come from way up high, must be rejected if they smack of bigotry, fundamentalism and competition or the suppression of a minority race or religion.
Mr. Goonetilleke deals at length with the prohibition of selling/serving alcohol on poya days and within a certain distance from places of religious worship and schools. I make bold to say that it is bad enough to have every full moon poya made a public holiday. No government will dare rescind that, even though the country has to work extra hard to get going, leave alone become the best in Asia. We will continue to be the country with, perhaps, the world’s largest number of public holidays per year which most certainly eats into the work ethos. We are truly shortsighted and foolish and impractical in subjugating tourists to the poya ban of alcohol. They come to enjoy themselves and we infringe on their rights when we impose our rules on them. Close liquor sales outlets on poya days and the day before too, but do not impinge on the hospitality trade.
Since hotels cannot sell nor serve beer and stronger drinks on poya days, hotel staff whisper that alcoholic drinks could be served in the requester’s room. (First hand experience when holidaying with family and then friends). I mean to say, that sounds crude and underhand. Not even a local visitor to a hotel wishes to have a drink in his/her bedroom, or in the room balcony if a restriction is imposed on the client.
We need to ban nudism on beaches and the child sex trade, (the latter does not get enough attention), but our hotels and restaurants should place minimum restrictions on tourists and not unjustified ones like banning the intake of liquor on poya days. Expatriates living in Sri Lanka too chafe about this restriction.
Consider the situation in the Republic of the Maldives. The government is very strictly against the bringing in or use of alcohol and literature etc of religions other than Islam; accepted, because the population is totally Muslim. But tourists suffer no restrictions. The Maldives is lucky to have thousands of islands in its atolls and thus the effective separation of tourists from Maldivian peoples except in Male` and Hululle. But we are luckier in that we have so much more to offer visitors to our country, if we go about it right.
If tourism is to be encouraged in our country and the influx of visitors facilitated, these staring-in-the-face anachronisms/restrictions must be deleted. Also, the fact that we need to develop the trade on a long term basis needs to be understood and accepted by planners and policy makers. Expert advice from whatever quarter must be accepted and considered. Also a word of caution: hotels are fully booked as of now. It won’t last unless we give our tourists their money’s worth with no unreasonable curtailments piled on them.